This is going to be a somewhat brief review of Kingdom Hearts 3 now that I’ve completed the main story and seen the secret movie, which I’ll follow up with a full video on Passable Gamers at some point in the near future (probably once I’ve finished my 100% playthrough). I’m not going to lie, there will be unmarked spoilers for this game and… probably all of the other games in the series. You have been warned.
First and foremost, I don’t think for a moment that this game is as good as Kingdom Hearts 2, or indeed as good as Birth by Sleep. Not only that, I’m actually pretty disappointed in the game overall given the FOURTEEN YEARS I’ve been cheerfully waiting for the end of the trilogy. Of course I’m going to elaborate, but my back of a fag packet review is: it is good, but it’s not great. And honestly, that’s the greatest sin of all. With delay after delay, I honestly expected some kind of masterpiece, or at least a massive improvement on what’s come before.
The game, the base game at least, is incredibly easy. You’re simply given so many abilities that combat is a breeze in every situation. There was no boss that gave me a lick of trouble, no enemy that proved confusing or requiring any amount of grinding to surpass, etc. In fact, I have yet to die. I failed the ship race in the Caribbean world on my first attempt because I tried to be clever and swing around the island chain rather than just barrelling through, but that’s the first and only time I’ve seen anything remotely like a game over screen. And that’s actually indicative of the problem: mashing attack or spamming magic are the easiest solution in every situation. Planned and reasoned strategy is completely pointless. To top it off, magic, finishers, “links” (the new game’s name for summons) and reaction commands are joined by Keyblade transformations, attractions, flowmotion, and the return of the shotlock ability from Birth by Sleep. In fact, it’s so intrusive that you’ll often find yourself activating an attraction purely to remove it from your list of reactions, and immediately backing out to dismiss it. Because, again, you hit harder by just hitting the enemies with your Keyblade.
Add to all of this the reaction command “rage mode”, which replaces the anti-form except is SO MUCH more broken. Anti-form was a punishment for overusing drive forms in Kingdom Hearts 2, and had a higher chance of happening in big boss battles so that you’re not using your drive forms as a crutch. It was fast and hit hard, but lacked a finisher or a way to end the form before the timer ran out, and because of the way forms worked in Kingdom Hearts 2 you also couldn’t be healed. Often, the anti-form could be a death sentence on proud mode. Rage mode, however, has a chance of popping up as a reaction when you hit critical health, and as such is optional. Activating it fully refills your health, causes you to hit harder and faster AND retain your ability to use finishers. Granted this doesn’t matter quite as much in Kingdom Hearts 3, because you can finish bosses with regular attacks rather than just the last hit in a combo or a magic attack, and to be fair it does remove your ability to use items and magic. You know what it doesn’t remove though? Donald and Goofy. That’s right, Donald is still there to spam Curaga whenever you get injured. And since you can extend rage form by taking a chunk out of your health, you can effectively keep going until either Donald goes down or you finally out-damage his ability to heal (which you won’t). Lastly, though I haven’t needed to use it, there is also the kupo coin, which is an instant revive for when you go down of which you can only hold on to one at a time, but can buy from a Moogle at any time.
So, the combat is easy.
The flow of the game is similar to the others, with one major difference that I’ll get to in a moment: You start with a bit of story, and I do mean a bit of story, I expected a MASSIVE exposition dump to cover for all of the spin off games right at the beginning, but there’s really very little hand-holding to begin with. This does change later of course as things start to get convoluted, but I genuinely appreciated the simpler start. So sorry where was I before the praise? Right, you start with a bit of story, you do a Disney world with its own mini plot, then you either do a bit more of the main story or move straight on to the next world. This continues until you abruptly finish all of the core worlds, and then the last few long form set pieces become the end of the game. Which of course, is the big detraction from the other main games in the series. There aren’t any “second visits” to worlds. I deliberately kept myself free of spoilers going in, and I was gutted to find that after clearing the Caribbean, that I wasn’t moving into the mid-game story bit, but the finale. Yes, a longer finale than the other games, but still very much the end rather than the middle.
And part of the reason I was surprised that this was so close to the end is that there were so many plot lines still floating in the air. Most get resolved, but the two I find most irritating to have only been covered in the epilogue are Axel and Saix’s mysterious girl that Ansem experimented on, and the black box that Maleficent and Pete were after. Both plot points were relentlessly teased at every opportunity, and then low and behold, they were just placeholder plot points for the next game. The girl is Ava from Kingdom Hearts X, and the box is the one that belonged to the Master of Masters. Both surround the somewhat expected reveal that Xigbar/Braig is Luxu. And all of this is there purely to remind everybody that the Seeker of Darkness saga is over, and we’re moving on to new ground.
Look, I haven’t played all of the spinoffs. I never touched Coded, 0.2, X, Union X, 2.8, and so on. I played 1, 2, CoM, 358/2, BBS and a bit of DDD. That’s not to say I don’t know the story, because I’ve read about it all because I was looking for absolutely anything to tide me over for the next big release, I just wasn’t willing to play ten games plus remakes, re-releases and remasters across half a dozen different consoles. And as a result, another thing Kingdom Hearts 3 fails in is being the third part of a trilogy. It’s the tenth part of a decalogy, and it cannot be fully enjoyed without knowledge of the other games in the series. It wasn’t so bad for Kingdom Hearts 2 where all you really needed was a passing knowledge of Chain of Memories to understand the backstory of the prologue. If someone played Kingdom Hearts 2 and then moved on to Kingdom Hearts 3, then for what possible reason would they assume Sora has lost all of his abilities (again) due to the events of Dream Drop Distance, or not be shocked by the lack of telegraphing about Ven’s heart being inside Sora’s? Who the hell is Xion? Terra? Aqua? Ventus? Marluxia? Old man Xehanort? Young Xehanort? How do they know about this True Organisation? What is Xigbar going on about in the epilogue and who are all these people? And so on, and so forth. In all this, it’s a truly bad ending to a trilogy.
All of that said, I enjoyed the game. Of course I did, I’ve got fourteen 2-3 hour videos of me playing the damn thing, and loving the heck out of it for a solid two thirds of the game. I enjoyed the (unfortunately super easy) battles against the Organisation, the return of Roxas, Xion, Ventus, Aqua, Terra, and Eraqus, and the shock of Kairi’s maybe-death-maybe-not. Sure, I didn’t like that Xehanort was redeemed in the end, because it didn’t really fit the character, but I got what the writers were trying to do. You even got a little squee when Castle Oblivion turned back into the Realm of Departure, but I do need to ask, why on earth do we not even get a “this place feels familiar”? Why does Sora still not know about the events of Chain of Memories? Why haven’t Riku or Mickey or Ansem filled him in? Why does Sora continue to jump between endearing hero and total freaking moron because he “doesn’t remember” any of the old Organisation members he runs into?
A few remaining thoughts: I absolutely cannot believe that there’s no Oathkeeper or Oblivion Keyblades this time around; they’ve been staples since the beginning, so what gives? I liked the Keyblade forge idea, although it meant I didn’t really try anything other than my main ones. I also didn’t realise until the post-game that the abilities from your three equipped Keyblades (another good shout allowing for some quick changes in strategy in the unlikely event strategy was necessary) work even when that Keyblade wasn’t in use. This means that now Favourite Deputy might not be worth crap in the combat department, but for those boosted drops it’s always going to be equipped. The photographing of emblems is novel, as is the photo mechanic in general and in particular the photography missions, of which I felt there could have been more. The gummi segments, almost universally reviled by fans, has been something I’ve always liked, and felt a little flat this time around. Also, while I think about it, where was my Kingdom Hearts collection for Xbox One? What was the point of not releasing the same uber pack that came out for PS4 when you’re releasing on a platform you’ve never touched with the series before???
So in summary, the game is good, not great. I probably have more bad to say than good, but that’s largely due to the expectations of waiting for a game for fourteen years. But most importantly of all, it’s a bad end to the trilogy. I’ll be picking up any DLC that comes out of course, because I’m a sucker, but I tell you now that if a Final Mix version comes out and it’s not an update or DLC patch for the main game, I’ll be goddamn livid and it might just be the thing that finally makes me walk away from the series. Lets do DLC right, eh guys?